NBC Monitor was a weekend radio program broadcast which ran from June 12, 1955 until January 26, 1975. Airing live and nationwide on NBC Radio, originally beginning Saturday morning at 8am and continuing through the weekend until midnight on Sunday, it offered a magazine-of-the-air mix of news, sports, comedy, variety, music, celebrity interviews and other short segments. Its length and eclectic format were radical departures from the traditional radio programming structure of 30- and 60-minute programs and represented an ambitious attempt to respond to the rise of television as America's major home entertainment medium.
The show was the brainchild of legendary NBC radio and television network president Sylvester (Pat) Weaver, whose career bridged classic radio and television's infancy and who sought to keep radio alive in a television age. Believing that broadcasting could and should educate as well as entertain, Weaver fashioned a series to do both, with some of the best-remembered and best-regarded names in broadcasting, entertainment, journalism and literature taking part. Monitor and the Sunday afternoon TV documentary series Wide Wide World were Weaver's last two great contributions to NBC, as he left the network within a year of Monitor's premiere.
The Beacon introduced the show and was used in transitions, for example, to station breaks, accompanied by the tag line: "You're on the Monitor beacon." The otherworldly electronic tones of the Beacon can be heard by clicking here (in RealPlayer format).
From Radio Central, anchors and hosts, initially dubbed "communicators," presided over three- or four-hour segments of the show. Well-known entertainment or broadcasting figures, they gave Monitor an impressive marquee and included: Cindy Adams; Mel Allen; Johnny Andrews; Jim Backus; Red Barber; Frank Blair; Bruce Bradley; David Brinkley; Ted Brown; Ed Bryce; Art Buchwald; Al "Jazzbo" Collins; Brad Crandall; Bill Cullen; James Daly; Jerry Damon; Dan Daniel; Hugh Downs; Clifton Fadiman; Art Fleming; Art Ford; Allen Funt; Frank Gallop; Joe Garagiola; Dave Garroway; Ben Grauer; Peter Hackes; Monty Hall; Bill Hanrahan; Bill Hayes; Bob Haymes; Wayne Howell; Don Imus; Candy Jones; Murray the K; Walter Kiernan; Durward Kirby; Jim Lowe; Hal March; Frank McGee; Ed McMahon; Garry Moore; Henry Morgan; Robert W. Morgan; Barry Nelson; Bert Parks; Leon Pearson; Tony Randall; Gene Rayburn; Peter Roberts; Don Russell; Ted Steele; John Cameron Swayze; Tony Taylor; John Bartholomew Tucker; David Wayne; Big Wilson and Wolfman Jack. Behind the scenes, Monitor's executive producers included Jim Fleming, Frank Papp, Al Capstaff and Bob Maurer.
Regular segments included "Celebrity Chef," "Ring Around the World" and "On the Line with Bob Considine." On-the-spot live remote broadcasts from New York City jazz clubs on Saturday evenings included both jazz groups and vocalists, such as Al Hibbler.
In the show's early years, weather reports were delivered in a breathy, sexy voice by actress Tedi Thurman in the role of Miss Monitor. Various broadcasting personalities heard delivering reports and segments included Jerry Baker (the Master Gardener), Morgan Beatty, Joyce Brothers, Al Capp, Paul Christman, Marlene Dietrich, Len Dillon, Chris Economaki; Arlene Francis, Betty Furness, Curt Gowdy, Skitch Henderson, Chet Huntley, Graham Kerr (the Galloping Gourmet), Joe Kirkwood, Jr., Fran Koltun; Sandy Koufax, Bill Mazer, Lindsey Nelson, Kyle Rote, Gene Shalit, Jean Shepherd, Jim Simpson, Barbara Walters, Ted Webbe, Tony Zappone and many NBC News correspondents.
Many comedy talents appeared through the years, including Woody Allen, Bill Cosby, Selma Diamond, Phyllis Diller, Bob Hope, Ernie Kovacs, Bob Newhart and Jonathan Winters. The comedy team of Mike Nichols and Elaine May appeared on Monitor, as did Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara. Bob and Ray, who won a 1957 Peabody Award for their Monitor comedy routines, often remained at NBC during the weekend to step in if technical problems developed with remote segments.
In addition to Bob and Ray, several Monitor regulars in its early years helped the show bridge the classic and modern radio eras. Henry Morgan had been a controversial radio comedian in the 1940s. Clifton Fadiman was the legendary host of Information Please, the highbrow quiz show. Mel Allen and Red Barber were familiar baseball voices (respectively, the New York Yankees and the Brooklyn Dodgers) since the 1940s. Garry Moore rose to fame as Jimmy Durante's radio sidekick. Bert Parks was host of the radio hits Stop the Music and Break the Bank.
Several radio comedy shows were revived in the form of regular five-minute Monitor segments, including Duffy's Tavern. Jim and Marian Jordan, better known as old-time radio favorites Fibber McGee and Molly, held down a regular Monitor segment and were said to be negotiating a new, long-term commitment to the show when Marian Jordan died of cancer in 1961. Peg Lynch and Alan Bunce, vintage radio's Ethel and Albert, also performed five-minute Monitor vignettes (1963-65). Peg Lynch made several of the vignettes available on compact disc for OTR collectors.
Remote segments originating from locations around the country were a regular part of Monitor, setting it apart from studio-bound broadcasts and taking advantage of network radio's reach. A weekend might include reports from a festival in Tucson, a golf championship in North Carolina, NBC's correspondent in Moscow, or on preparations for the Olympic Games in Melbourne, Australia.